I have no trouble understanding the feelings of British Euroskeptics; the British political sytem works pretty well, and the EU still hasn’t figured out a way of making its institutions responsive to voters. I seem to recall reading that it took people in this country a long time to identify as Americans, rather than, say, Virginians, and of course national identities in Europe are far older and stronger than those of the individual colonies ever were. So the opponents of the new European Constitution at least have a plausible case to make. (The Americans who hate the EU, who are mostly the same people as hate the UN, are a different matter: they seem to be terrified at the thought of there being any powerful institution in the world that Karl Rove and Rupert Murdoch can’t dominate or intimidate.)
But it never helps the credibility of one’s case to ignore the obviously powerful arguments on the other side. The EU makes intra-European war unthinkable; it makes the establishment of tyranny in any European country impossible; and (despite its current economic troubles) it has spread prosperity to its poorer members.
Take Spain, for example, which has been consistently poor and unfree since before the union of Aragon and Castile. According to yesterday’s LA Times, since 1986 Spain has gotten $220 billion in EU subsidies. (Of course the paper doesn’t bother to say whether that’s net or gross.) It’s now a fairly rich country, no less democratic than any other place in Europe. Ireland, too, has been poor as long as there’s been an Ireland; it’s now richer than the UK. Northern Italy is now once again, as it was during the Renaissance, one of the richest provinces in the world, and Southern Italy is experiencing its first burst of prosperity since Roman times. Even Greece is making progress. I’m not in general a fan of using GDP per capita as a welfare measure; once a country is as rich as the median EU country now is, most of the welfare gains come from other sources. But if a country is poor, as Spain was or Romania is, getting un-poor is pretty important.
Creating a zone of peace, freedom, and prosperity embracing 450 million people won’t be a small accomplishment, and there seems little reason to doubt that the EU can pull it off. So if you want to argue that giving up sovereignty is too big a price to pay, be my guest; but don’t pretend that price would be paid for nothing.
[And, from a strictly US viewpoint, it will be easier (on Mancur Olsen principles) to squeeze a more equitable contribution to various public goods — from peacekeeping to pharmaceutical developement — from one big negotiating partner than from twenty-five medium-to-small ones.]